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Rapid Response: Rock Church Answers Request for Barrio Logan Beautification
By Shawn Maree McCowan - September 27, 2011

He asked for help; Rock Church responded.

When Senior Pastor Miles McPherson invited Councilman David Alvarez to the Rock on July 24th, McPherson asked how the church could serve his District. Alvarez shared the needs of his Barrio Logan community. Within two weeks, Do Something World Director Debbie Smith contacted the 8th District councilman to help make his wish list a reality.

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, 614 volunteers gathered in Barrio Logan to embark on the Do Something World beautification project. They gathered five dumpsters full of trash and debris, pulled up weeds from over 72,000 square feet of open space, planted 256 plants, and swept, weeded and cleaned approximately 2.5 miles of city streets.

All told, volunteers put in over 3,684 hours of work that day at an estimated $44,134 cost savings to the city of San Diego. The project was part of the Do Something World (DSW) campaign, designed by McPherson to serve the community and the world while helping to relieve the city's financial burden.

"I want to thank you for taking time to do this," Alvarez told a group of volunteers. "This community really needs this type of positive activity. It beautifies the neighborhood, but it uplifts the neighborhood as well and the spirit of the people."

"This community really needs this type of positive activity. It beautifies the neighborhood, but it uplifts the neighborhood as well and the spirit of the people." ~ Councilman Alvarez

Alvarez said he was amazed with the willing response of the Rock.

"The fact that we're able to do this partnership is amazing because I came to the church a couple months ago and it just so happens that this date opened up," said Alvarez. "I said, 'I want it. Barrio Logan is in need and I've got plenty of things that we can take care of.'"

"The ability for the church to provide these kind of numbers is key. With a large infusion of power of people, it just magnifies what you can do," added Alvarez, saying that the cleanup will also boost the small businesses that make up the local economy.

Smith said that she was thrilled the Rock could help on such short notice. Another DSW project had been planned, but fell through, leaving the date open for Alvarez.

"Within two weeks we were following up with projects in the area," said Smith. "On the way to the City Council, David Alvarez drives through his neighborhood or rides his bike. He said the two areas that really impressed upon his heart, that made him sad, were the Sampson Street bridge and the senior center, made up mostly of a volunteer staff.

"They just don't have the willing volunteers to do it," continued Smith. "It's just a response to what needed to be done in his neighborhood. That's what we're here to do. It's like, you need help, we have the manpower, that's just what we do."

Neighbors who went to sleep the night before were pleasantly surprised with the transformation they saw just after dawn. The trash was gone. Streets and alleys were swept clean. Graffiti was painted over. Weeds were pulled and the earthy smell of fresh mulch surrounding trees along the streets filled the air.

"Who are you?" asked a resident who drove by and honked her horn. When she learned what was going on, she shouted, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" before driving off.

The trash was gone. Streets and alleys were swept clean. Graffiti was painted over. Weeds were pulled and the earthy smell of fresh mulch surrounding trees along the streets filled the air.

"The uniqueness with the Barrio Logan project has been the immediate results that touch the people of this community … we're feeling the immediate impact," said David Cooper, multi-site pastor at the Rock. "It's about fiscal impact but also it's about the eternal impact in our community and our city."

At the heart of the community is the Paradise Senior Center and nearby Chicano Park. According to a plaque at the park, the site holds special significance to the residents because on April 22, 1970, protesters faced bulldozers to resist efforts to establish a California Highway patrol station there.

Following the 12-day resistance and negotiations, the land was turned over to the community for a park. The park is now considered an outdoor public art gallery. Dozens of murals adorn the pylons, depicting the social, political and cultural struggle of the Chicano/Mexicano people.

"I'm so happy. We never imagined we could get this kind of help; we're all volunteers," said Rosa Navarro, president of the senior citizen board at the center. A Barrio Logan community volunteer for 41 years, she was involved in the takeover at the park in 1970. The senior center is a meeting place for seniors as well as the entire community, she said.

Other agencies and community groups, such as Cal-Trans, San Diego Parks and Recreation, the Unified Port District of San Diego, Chicano Park Steering Committee, Urban Corps, Bank of America, and Barrio Station, also partnered to complete the cleanup and other projects throughout the neighborhood.

In addition to the cleanup, Rock volunteers gave out shirts, jackets, and blankets to the homeless. One woman, identified only as Denise, had made her home on two mattresses under the overpass. Project Area Leaders Rebekah Jenson and Rebecca Wong left her blankets and a note of encouragement.

Being homeless didn't prevent Rescue Mission resident Cynthia Manos from serving, though it took special permission from the shelter administrators.

"We love the Rock Church," said Manos. "We live at the Rescue Mission and the Rock provides a lot of support to us so we wanted to provide support to them."

Rock member Deiana Velazco, a Barrio Logan resident for 35 years, came with her small group. She said she lived nearby and even grew up with Alvarez.

"Chicano Park has a lot of history here," said Velazco. "I'm just grateful to be part of this community and giving back."

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